Communications Corner

Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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by Al and Dru Simon

Hello, and welcome back to our corner. Since we've gotten so many comments and letters having to do with Bulletin Boards we've decided to devote another column to some of the most frequently asked questions we've received about this fascinating communications medium.

If you've never yet called one, (this seems almost impossible these days!) let's review for a moment what Bulletin Board Services (or BBS as they're often called) are and their most common functions and options.

A BBS is usually operated by an individual microcomputer owner and is a small system which has been created for public access via computer terminal. It generally consists of a large number of programs which perform various functions such as MESSAGE CREATION, DOWNLOADING and UPLOADING, GAME-PLAYING, and the like.

The "heart" of each BBS is called the HOST program. This is a program which will allow the BBS computer to accept operating commands from a terminal at a remote location through use of a MODEM. (See the article about MODEMs in the August issue of Microcomputer News). When you enter a command option such as QD for MESSAGES to the BBS you have called, what you are doing is telling the HOST program to call up the particular program that OPERATES the Message section of thatjDulletin board.

The internal workings of Bulletin Boards consist of several OPERATING programs. These are basically the "cogs and wheels" of the system, allowing your commands (called "remote input") to cause programs to be put into motion and tying together each program with the HOST program. Each Bulletin Board network accomplishes this "tying together" in a different way, but essentially all the systems function in the same basic manner.

Other programs within a BBS can be data files, which might be programs for downloading, lists of other BBS numbers, lists of people who have called that board, and so forth. They might be adventure games which the caller can play while online, sales catalogues, general interest bulletins, or any kind of data which the particular system operator decides to include in his/her service.

Well, all that seems to be quite a lot of programs to stuff into one little microcomputer! How much space does all this take up? That depends entirely on the intent of the system operator (also called sysop (pronounced SIS-op)). Some run their boards using one or two 40 track disk drives, and some use multi-megabyte hard drives for storage! The memory capabilities of a board depend entirely on the whim (and pocketbook!) of the person running it. It can be as small or as large as the sysop desires.

Many people seem to have an interesting picture in their minds of what a BBS setup looks like. Some think of a huge room full of whirring, clacking machinery, and others of an ominous "Demon Seed" sort of setup.

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Essentially, what makes up a bulletin board system is the computer (of course), disk drives, and a printer on which is stored various information about each caller. The information which each BBS stores on paper (called HARD COPY) also depends on the sysop. (You'll find that almost every aspect of every BBS depends on what each particular sysop wishes to do). Some keep records only of the names of each caller, some keep caller addresses for mailing list purposes, and so on.

DRUCOM keeps hard copy not only of each caller and the time of his/her call, but of each activity the caller indulges in, and the duration of the visit. In this way, we can monitor the interest each section of our board holds and thus can eliminate any section which is not used. We also keep records of any messages which are left and who left them, in case we come across some kind of problem in reference to any particular message. We also keep record of the caller number and highest message number in our system, as a protection against system failure and resultant loss of messages.

Just for interest's sake, we have duplicated a sample section of our hard copy log, although we have "borrowed"

the name of the caller.

R.S. Tandy Fort Worth Tx. Clr#34698 Msg#2608

I am in Videotex using the 64 character mode

I entered Arcade at 08/08/83 10:45:22

I played Cia/Gam at 08/08/83 10:45:30

I Paged you at 08/08/83 10:57:02

I answered R.S. Tandy's page

I entered FXFER at 08/08/83 11:07:30

I entered Color Computer download at 08/08/83 11:07:40

I Standard Downloaded Direccc/ccc: Time 1 Minute 23 Seconds

I Standard Downloaded Dskscrtcc/ccc: Time 2 Minutes 4 Seconds

I entered Messages at 08/08/83 11:12:01

2608 INFO PLEASE To: DRU SIMON (Private Message)

Online 0 Hours 42 minutes 19 seconds, off at 11:22 Am,

The first line of the log entry is the caller's name, city, and state, plus the number that the next message to be left will be assigned, and lastly, what number caller his is. (In the two plus years that DRUCOM has been online, we have received close to 35,000 calls!). The next lines indicated that he has called using Videotex in the 64 character mode. We are then informed that the caller entered the game-playing section of the board and used a file called "Cia/Gam." This tells us that he played a certain game in that section, and the hour he began to play. Most boards limit the time that games may be played, for it is far too easy for a player to lose track of time while on a BBS!

Next, we're told that the caller paged the sysop, and that I answered his call. We obviously chatted for a few moments, and then he went to the File Transfer section. It is noted by the Filename assigned to it in the operating system, which in the case of DRUCOM is called FXFER. He then entered the Color Computer download section and took two public access programs, both of which are named, so that we can tell which programs are generating interest and remove those that are not.

Next we can see that the caller entered the message section of the board and left a private message to Dru Simon with the title of "INFO PLEASE." As indicated on the top line, that message was assigned the number 2608. The message number on the first line of the next caller's log would of course be 2609.

Lastly, we see that this caller logged off the board after visiting for 42 minutes and 19 seconds, showing us the time of his departure. In this manner we can closely follow the activity of our BBS and keep abreast of our callers' wishes and needs. Different sysops will keep different records of each caller, depending on what that sysop feels is most valuable to his particular BBS. We keep our hard copy log for future reference and also keep hard copy of the messages left in each of our message bases, in case anyone needs to see them for some reason.

Now, you know basically what a BBS consists of and a little bit about its inner workings. Let's talk about some of the questions we've received about how you operate one once you've connected your terminal to it.

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